“You Can’t Freeze a Person:” Personhood Amendments and IVF

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Abortion abortion abortion abortion. There, I got that out of the way. Now to talk about how “Personhood” state constitutional amendments need to be a bigger deal because of their unforeseen consequences on IVF’s legality and availability.

I’ve written about IVF before, mostly because I think it’s been a huge lifesaver for a certain class of woman who cannot naturally have children. It’s not yet affordable for many, but it’s an essential component of any discussion regarding women, modernity, and children.

Perhaps media outlets aren’t paying enough attention to Georgia, Kansas, and North Dakota’s “personhood” amendments because similar amendments got shot down in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Ohio not even a year ago. But these new amendments in a variety of the three above-mentioned states and other places are not getting shot down as readily, either by legislators or voters. Though up until January, no US state had yet to officially adopt “personhood” legislation, in April the Kansas legislature passed a bill defining life as beginning at fertilization, which was subsequently signed into law.

North Dakota’s House of Representatives passed a personhood amendment in March. Georgia has support for a legislatively referred constitutional amendment for the November 2014 ballot. This is an issue on the table.

What these bills say is that a person is a person, no matter how small. The bills are unquestionably intended to strengthen the rights of the fetus and weaken the mother’s choice, in case she should choose to have an abortion. What this also means, however, is that even five fertilized eggs, transferred to a woman who is struggling to get pregnant, are now all U.S. citizens with constitutional rights regardless of whether they “take.” These amendments will endanger the legality of in-vitro fertilization, and no doubt other fertilization strategies approved by science.

This isn’t fear-mongering. Often times legal protections are not enough, even for the laws we have on the books. In January, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law published a study, which listed several instances of pregnant women’s rights failing them since Roe v. Wade due to pro-life legislation or emotional handling of a situation. Instances include involuntary incarceration to prevent a woman from having an abortion, to being charged with murder because a prescribed medication accidentally caused a miscarriage.

What these personhood amendments will introduce is nothing but strife and nonsense, where questions like “Can I freeze a person?” will become commonplace. What’s worse is they won’t be a joke – they’ll be reality.

Regardless of whether you stand with Wendy Davis or you don’t – and I personally believe there should be some viability limits on abortion – it’s unreasonable and malicious to restrict fertility treatments in the name of life. Not only does it unnecessarily interfere, but face the facts: a fertilized egg couldn’t give a damn what happens to it. The moral implications, if any, are between a person and their conscience. Even more importantly, the government has no place restricting families’ access to what may be their only hope to have children.